The Minnesota Vikings, like other teams, script plays to start a game. Now, they plan on doing it to start the second half.
In each of the past four games, the Vikings (2-3) have failed to score a touchdown on offense in the second half. Head coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday the team has been doing a lot of research in order to correct that heading into Sunday’s key game at Carolina (3-2).
“I gave the coaches a lot of projects to do this week, on Monday,” Zimmer said. “So, I think probably being a little bit more specific coming out of halftime, instead of saying, ‘Hey, these are the plays that we’re thinking about running,’ and going, ‘All right, here’s what we’re going to run. Here’s the first play, second play, third play,’ and we go from there.”
The second-half offensive struggles started in Week 2 at Arizona when the Vikings got a touchdown on linebacker Nick Vigil’s interception return but no such scores from the offense in a 34-33 loss. They haven’t scored any touchdowns at all in the second half in the past three games, although they did win two of those games.
Over the past four games, the Vikings have averaged 16 points on offense in the first half, and have scored touchdowns on their first possession in three of them. But they have averaged just 4.5 points on offense in the second half, with all of those points coming on six Greg Joseph field goals.
“We just need to execute,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “We need to find a way in the second half to be more productive, to score touchdowns. … We’ve just got to find a way to not only move the football, convert third downs, stay on the field, but then when we get down in the red zone, come away with a touchdown instead of kicking field goals.”
One thing that could help Sunday is having running back Dalvin Cook back and mostly healthy after he missed two of the past three games. He suffered a sprained right ankle against the Cardinals, sat out a 30-17 win over Seattle in Week 3, played but struggled in a 14-7 loss to Cleveland in Week 4, then missed last Sunday’s 19-17 Week 5 win over Detroit.
Alexander Mattison has filled in admirably when Cook has been out, though he lost what could have been a decisive fumble late in the game against the Lions. He’s had 100-yard rushing games in the two games Cook missed, but he doesn’t keep a defense off balance the way the two-time Pro Bowl selection does.
“Dalvin’s a great player, and when he’s on the field it’s a good thing for our offense, so it’d be great to have him back,” Cousins said.
Cook’s chances of returning against the Panthers look to be good. He practiced Wednesday on a limited basis and before the workout spoke well of his recovery.
“I feel good,” he said. “Going to keep attacking my rehab, getting stronger, getting back to being me.”
Cook said it has been difficult sitting out regardless of how the offense has been doing.
“It’s always frustrating not to be able to compete because you work so hard to put yourself in position to help the team win games,” he said. “Not being able to go out there, we’re athletes, it’s what we do. … So not being able to go out there at any time, whether our offense is doing good or doing bad. … is always frustrating.”
Cook was a game-time decision last Sunday, and it’s possible Detroit’s record and the game being at home played a role in the decision not to use him. But the Lions (0-5) took a 17-16 lead in the final minute after Mattison’s fumble and would have pulled off a big upset had Joseph not made a 54-yard field goal on the final play.
Now, the Vikings have a pivotal game against the Panthers. A win or a loss would mean the difference between being 3-3 or 2-4 entering their bye week.
“That’d be big, and just going into the bye week with a win, just that confidence, just getting it going for the second part of our schedule,” Cook said. “And we’re trying to even the score up, trying to get back to .500.”